Updated Friday, November 9, 2012 at 11:23 AM
TUCSON, Ariz. — Jared Loughner was sentenced Thursday to seven consecutive terms of life in prison at a hearing punctuated by emotion as former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, for the first time confronted the man who shot her in the head during a rampage last year that left six dead and 12 others wounded.
Giffords, 42, her right arm in a sling, stared at Loughner as retired astronaut Kelly delivered his remarks before a packed courtroom, from a dais a few feet from the defendant's chair.
"By making death and producing tragedy, you sought to extinguish the beauty of life, to diminish potential, to strain love and to cancel ideas," Kelly said. "You tried to create for all of us a world as dark and evil as your own. But remember it always: You failed."
Loughner's punishment — in addition to the life terms, he was sentenced to 140 years in prison — came as no surprise. It was a condition of the guilty plea he entered Aug. 7, admitting to the shootings and ending a case that had prompted soul-searching about mental-health treatment and the country's gun laws.
From the bench in U.S. District Court, Judge Larry Burns said that he was just "a single federal judge" who had "no intention to change the law." Still, he questioned the wisdom of allowing the unrestricted sale of high-capacity magazines, such as the one Loughner used.
"I don't understand the social utility of allowing citizens to have magazines with 30 bullets in them," Burns said.
He also said that, although Loughner has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, he understood the potential consequences of the attack and searched online for information about the death penalty beforehand.
Prosecutors decided not to seek a death sentence at the behest of the survivors and the families of those killed, said assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst, according to media accounts. "What you did was wrong," Kleindienst said, "but they felt it wasn't right to execute a man with a mental illness."
For Kelly, who has been Giffords' unrelenting companion and her voice as she has struggled to articulate her words since the shooting, the politics of gun control is the "elephant in the room." He denounced politicians who are "afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws," singling out Gov. Jan Brewer, whom he called "feckless," and the Legislature, which "thought it appropriate to busy itself naming an official Arizona state gun just weeks after this tragedy."
Kelly went on, "After Columbine, after Virginia Tech, after Tucson and after Aurora," the Colorado suburb where a gunman killed 12 and wounded 58 in a movie theater in July, "we have done nothing."
Giffords did not say anything, only stroking her husband's back when they slowly made their way back to their seats.
On Jan. 8, 2011, Loughner, now 24, arrived at a constituents meeting hosted by Giffords, then a member of the U.S. House, in a Tucson shopping-center parking lot. He had a loaded Glock 9 mm pistol and carried 60 rounds of extra ammunition. In less than 30 seconds, he fired 31 shots.
Onlookers tackled and restrained him when he paused to reload. One was Pamela Simon, an aide and close friend of Giffords' who was shot by Loughner and was one of seven victims to speak in court.
Simon, who taught at the middle school Loughner had attended, said she remembered him as "a kid who loved music." On Thursday, she told him, "You remind us that too often we either do not notice the signs of mental illness, or we just choose to look away."
Mavy Stoddard, whom Loughner shot three times, told him she cradled her wounded husband, Dorwan, in her arms and whispered, "Breathe deeply, honey."
Ten minutes later, he was dead.
Also killed in the attack: Christina-Taylor Green, 9; federal Judge John Roll; Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman; Phyllis Schneck and Dorothy Morris.
As survivors spoke in court, Loughner stared at each of them, virtually motionless. He slurred his only words, "That's right," spoken after the judge asked if he had waived his right to address the court.
Despite the schizophrenia diagnosis, he was deemed competent to agree to the plea deal, which makes him ineligible for parole or to appeal. He has been held at a federal hospital in Missouri for more than a year.
Authorities said they will return Loughner to the Missouri prison facility, but it's up to federal prison officials whether he will remain there.
Material from the Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press is included in this report.
ROSS D. FRANKLIN / AP
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, left, and her husband, Mark Kelly, leave a Tucson, Ariz., courthouse Thursday.
UNCREDITED / AP
Jared Loughner, diagnosed with schizophrenia